Down River, Up Life : Prologue to the Allagash

                                 Round Pond and Katahdin, From Chamberlain Bridge

Peter and I are driving to Millinocket in his Toaster, one of those small boxy vans that look like a……… a toaster. We’ve got coffee, a good two hour drive, and the semi sweet anticipation of watching our boys play another baseball game against Stearns. It’s a long haul to go watch a game, but I’ve always liked this drive north, and Peter is good company. A loud noise from the Toaster’s front end lends some drama to the passage, but he says he’s sure we won’t loose a wheel.

North of Howland we pass a moose leg lying on the side of the highway. “Did you see that, we just passed a moose leg.”

“I wonder where the rest of it is,” says Peter, hunched over the wheel the way he drives.

“Yeah,” I say, looking around for a three legged moose but not seeing one. It’s hard to tell, driving by, how long the leg had been there. I don’t see a three legged moose lasting very long in the forest. The neighborhood coyotes wouldn’t dilly dally around with an opportunity like that.

“Well,” I say, moving on, “the canoe trip is still a canoe trip, but it’s not on the Allagash anymore. When they heard how long the trip took they started dropping out, and consensus was for a shorter trip. So we’re doing the West Branch instead.”

We listen to the wheel bearing drone for a few seconds, then, “You can’t run a canoe trip like a democracy,” Peter snaps. He has a way of delivering emphatic, definitive statements, and this was a good example. It hit home. Of course, that’s what happened I realized. I’d tried to satisfy everyone. The idea was for a family style canoe trip, and that’s how I went down that road, or river. A family sticks together, right? Well we did end up sticking together on the West Branch, and that was fine, but that meant another year went by without doing the Allagash.

This year it’s going to be different. I’m going, and I’m going alone. I’m going to go alone for a couple of reasons. First, I’m going to do it alone so nothing gets screwed up, and if it does, I ‘ll be responsible. I can set the schedule without consultation or conflict, I can move at my own pace, not hurry up or wait, and if I want to go explore something off to the side I can do it without asking, or explaining. Management of a set of people toward a shared goal will not be part of the trip. The hell with democracy, this trip is going to be anarchic, pure and simple. Utopian anarchy I call it. I’ll pay for this with bouts of loneliness, but it will be worth it.

The Material Adjustment to the Journey

I am making a major material adjustment in preparation for the trip, and that involves the purchase of a used kevlar canoe. With this vessel I am effectively turning back the clock thirty years, because instead of an 80 lb canoe on my back, I will be heisting a mere 42 lb canoe. Anyone over sixty can appreciate this. We don’t have to read about sarcopenia in a medical encyclopedia to know our muscles are on the decline, and have been for some time. One way to deal with this problem, which is a problem of pride and manhood as much as it is about the act of carrying in the firewood, or lifting one end of a Volkswagen off the ground, is to stop lifting things that might cause injury or embarrassment. Unfortunately, this kind of restraint accelerates the process of sarcopenia, and would result in further diminishment of opportunities. In the realm of canoeing, however, the solution for the foreseeable future is simple. By obtaining a canoe that weighs half what the other canoes do, I have effectively turned back the clock, and adjusted my canoe age index downward by 25 or 30 years. I’m not a 64 year old paddler now, I’m a 34 year old paddler.

The Allagash Below Churchill Falls


However, practical and significant as a 42 lb canoe is, my canoeing age is a metaphor, and my calendar age is what it is, and I just can’t let another year go by without doing the Allagash trip. Two years ago something happened and people my age and younger started dying at an alarmingly accelerated rate. This sounds weird, but last year I started keeping a list of the dead. For some reason it seemed worthwhile to keep track of who’s not here anymore. Already there are some twenty odd names. Holly and I have had our own issues, brushes with cancer for both of us, and for me, mysterious twitches and tweaks along the pathways of the nervous system has led to a ramped up intake of Vitamin B. Of course, we mostly don’t know how much time we have, but law of averages says when you’re sixty something what’s ahead ain’t what it used to be. Why take a chance. If you want to do the Allagash, do it now.